Neighborhood groups have chastised an interim review of the controversial departure flight path test released by the FAA, which points to the success of the test as well as the complaints of residents.
The Federal Aviation Administration released the interim review on May 18 regarding the controversial Instrument Flight Rules departure test at Santa Monica Airport (SMO) that redirected single-propeller planes over homes in Santa Monica from December 2009 through June 2010.
Delays at SMO were reduced by 85 percent since the test began, according to the FAA report, reducing costs that have exceed $1 million since June 2008.
Planes turned heading 250 degrees northward after departing from SMO to avoid traffic at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and reduce delays on the runway that cause excess jet pollution. Residents and lawmakers in Santa Monica lobbied against the flight test since its inception.
The permanency of the test is still in limbo as data from the test is reviewed and analyzed by the FAA to determine if it will be permanently implemented. That decision hinges on the FAA’s final report in August. The City of Santa Monica called for a full environmental review before any decisions are made, but the FAA is not legally required to follow such requests.
The report analyzes flight delays of 15 minutes or more caused by planes at SMO waiting for planes to depart at LAX. Flights under 15 minutes are not recorded. Delays considered not “reportable” have also been reduced, according to the report, with the elimination of wait times of six to eight minutes at LAX.
With this method of tabulation if planes are delayed an average of 16 minutes one month and then are delayed only 14 minutes, the FAA could conclude that all delays were eliminated, argued the Friends of Sunset Park (FOSP), a neighborhood organization in Santa Monica. FOSP called the equation “bad math” in a letter sent to California Representative Henry Waxman. The group is insisting on a full environmental review. This sentiment has been echoed by the City of Santa Monica and many other neighborhood organizations before the flight path is potentially made permanent.
The group’s estimates show that there were more than 7,500 noise complaints filed by Santa Monica residents, amounting to many more planes using the flight test than the FAA estimates of eight to 10 rerouted flights per day.
The FAA measured the noise complaints in detail by determining if the reports were actually attributed to the flight path test. The agency the reports 69 noise complaints related to the test, which originated from 13 different addresses. Three addresses account for 77 percent of the complaints and one address alone accounted for 41 percent of all complaints.
“We can only conclude that VFR [Visual Flight Rules] as well as IFR pilots were being told by air traffic controllers that they could fly over Santa Monica instead of taking the Penmar Golf Course route,” the letter said.
Data collected from the flight test period was requested by residents for their own review, but the FAA said it would only release that information for a $99,000 price. This cost, the agency said, is attributed to the work hours it would take for staff to disseminate the six months of data.
The Wilmont Board of the Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition has challenged the FAA’s review citing lack of evidence for the delays caused at LAX and also the elimination of delays less than 15 minutes in the tabulation. The group released the FAA Interim Review Analysis, which determined that the data collected is insufficient to “accurately determine anything.”
“It is somewhat frightening to consider that the group responsible for preparation of such an inadequate report would also determine the level of environmental review required,” the Wilmont Board analysis states.
State Assembly member Ted Lieu introduced a joint resolution to examine airport pollution’s impact on the community with the cooperation from the FAA, Environmental Protection Agency, and the federal Department of Transportation. The resolution was introduced with support from Los Angeles Council member Bill Rosendahl, who represents par of the city’s Westside including Venice.
Laura Silagi, co-chair of Venice Neighborhood Council’s airport committee, presented a draft letter that supports a ban on all student flight and pilot training activity from SMO, such as the “touch and go” training that may have been related to the deadly plane crash in Penmar Golf Course on July 2. The Venice Neighborhood Council approved the letter to be sent to the FAA.
Silagi, who has lived in Venice for more than 35 years, said in a brief phone conversation that eliminating the flight test in Santa Monica does not eliminate the risk. There is no safety-related reason it is any safer in Venice, she said.
In 2009, there were approximately 153 flights per day from the airport, all of which were over Venice, according to the letter.